Stacy Watson of the Georgia Ports Authority, hosted by Development Authority of Bryan County CEO Anna Chafin, spoke to the Richmond Hill Rotary Club during the group’s Thursday lunch meeting at the city center in J.F. Gregory Park.
Watson, who is a Richmond Hill resident and the port’s general manager of economic and industrial development, touched on the strength of the Port of Savannah’s Garden City Terminal and the status of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, which currently is under construction.
Savannah’s is the fourth-busiest port in the United States and the fastest-growing. Watson said the key to the port’s success is balanced trade, which means a basically even ratio of exports to imports. Savannah’s export/import ration for 2013 was 52 percent exports to 48 percent imports, which is better than the national ratio of 41 percent exports to 59 percent imports.
“Ours is the only port in the nation to be above pre-recession levels,” Watson said.
Additionally, the port’s location is a factor in its growth and success.
“I like to say that we’re blessed as far as geography is concerned. We are, if you look at a globe, due south of Cincinnati, Ohio, at the port of Savannah. We are the most westerly port on the East Coast, which gives us a definite geographic advantage. Our biggest market is the Atlanta market, and we are 100 miles closer to Atlanta than any other port on the East Coast, which is a huge plus for us,” Watson said.
The Port of Savannah also is building for the future. Over the past 10 years, operating revenue grew an average of 10 percent per years, and planned investments over the next decade total $1.4 billion.
Those plans include the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.
“It is the most studied civil works project in the nation,” the port manager said, “and it is under construction.”
Watson also said the port stays ahead of the growth curve by striving to keep capacity 20 percent ahead of demand through long-term planning. And he doesn’t expect things to slow down any time soon, given that the Port of Savannah doesn’t have to contend with issues that prove problematic for other ports.
“If you look at other ports that are confined within the cities they occupy, they have problems with growth. We don’t have those problems,” Watson said. “We’re within 6 miles of I-16, we’re within 6 miles of I-95, so as long as that freight is on that ship, we’re moving three or four thousand containers at a time up the river, past River Street … our location up the river actually is a huge advantage for us.”
The Richmond Hill Rotary Club meets for lunch at 12:30 p.m. every Thursday at the city center.